FREAK-IOLOGY….I just finished reading Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics, a very nice, accessible book that addresses a hodgepodge of interesting topics. Should you read it too? Sure, although at 25 bucks for 200 pages you might want to wait for the paperback edition. (I don’t buy many hardbacks these days, but I had a gift card in hand and the book looked interesting and….anyway, I bought it.)

Aside from some generic whinging about the high cost of books these days, however, there was one thing that bugged me about this particular book: virtually nothing in it had anything to do with economics. Here are some sample questions: Is sumo wrestling fixed? Does school choice matter? Why has crime declined? Do baby names have any impact on life outcomes?

Now, this is all interesting stuff, but the investigations all followed pretty much the same pattern: Levitt (or some other researcher) analyzed a huge dataset of some kind and then used statistical tools to tease out correlations that explain some aspect of human behavior. The divide between economics and other social sciences may be pretty fuzzy these days, but as near as I can tell these are almost purely sociological questions and are addressed almost purely with the standard statistical toolkit of sociology, psychology, political science, and organizational behavior. This isn’t economics unless you define economics so broadly that it encompasses any investigation into stuff that human beings do.

Yeah, I know: whatever. But there was one other thing: on page 13 Levitt promised that the book would explode the myth that drinking eight glasses of water per day is good for your health. Longtime readers with good memories will remember that this is a topic of interest to me, and I wanted to hear more about it. But no. After the tease, there was nothing more.


Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation